Some say the conference championship games are better than the Super Bowl itself, and I tend to agree.
This season we have a couple of classics to look forward to, minus Tom Brady, Brett Favre or Peyton Manning.
With the exception of Ben Roethlisberger we are looking at the possibility of two quarterbacks facing each other in their inaugural Vince Lombardi trophy contest.
I have even booked the Monday off work so I can stay up until the early hours to watch every play of both games.
I have always loved NFC and AFC championship day, and I have many many fond memories of some outstanding contests at the semi-final stage. Games like the 49ers v Giants when Joe Montana was knocked into another world, the Bills murdering the Oakland Raiders 51-3 (if I recall) and the Redskins reaching Super Bowl XXII on the back of a Darrell Green end zone deflection.
NFC Championship – Packers @ Bears
Back in September 2010 I predicted that the Green Bay Packers would make the NFC Championship – as the home team. Aaron Rodgers looked good in 2009 and it was inevitable that he was on the career path travelling in an ascending pattern.
In no way did I see the Chicago Bears as the team that would be the highest seed remaining in the NFC. The knock on the Bears was the rather hotchpotch wide receiver corps, the immaturity of Jay Cutler and the fact Brian Urlacher was coming of a major injury.
As it turned out the bitter divisional rivals have both had extremely productive seasons, with the Packers playing the better playoff football, and here we are with two 12 win teams playing for the right to represent the NFC in Dallas.
Gotta love the fact that the Bears only previous Super Bowl winning MVP is gonna be at Soldier Field tonight as an honorary captain. This sure is one game where the Bears could use the punch packed by their 85 compatriots.
Keys to the game
- Can the Bears establish the run? For the Bears to keep this one close they are going to have to keep the pigskin away from the red-hot Aaron Rodgers, and this means a large dose of Matt Forte and a decent cameo from former Viking Chester Taylor.
- Can the Bears use the speed of Johnny Knox and Devin Hester? Speed kills, and the Bears combo of Knox and Hester are hard to outrun in an open field. The pair lack consistency and that is their big downfall. You would not want to start either in your fantasy team, but one slip or one missed tackle and they could be blazing up the field for an 80 yard score.
- Can the Packers get pressure on Jay Cutler? We all know about the Giants nailing Cutler more times than a carpenter on double-time, but the Bears learnt from that game and the offensive line is now much improved, if not by personnel but definitely by technique. The Packers love blitzing safeties or even Charles Woodson, but this will no longer be a surprise. It comes down to the likes of B.J. Raji getting pressure or not.
- Can the Packers play balanced offensive football? The Packers went out and whipped the Falcons last week. The game turned on the late second quarter pick six, or we would likely be talking about Matty Ice right now. The Pack love to pass pass pass, but they need to run the ball 25 times to win this game.
Prediction – A lot lower scoring than many will anticipate, both defenses will outplay their offensive counterparts, and this will result in a tense contest that will come down to a Robbie Gould field goal for the late win - Packers 19-20 Bears – Game MVP Matt Forte – 125 combined yards and a TD.
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AFC Championship Jets @ Steelers
The only team to return to the conference championship game this season is the New York Jets, a team that has made more enemies this year than Darth Vader on a Sunday morning with a hangover. The Jets have the spirit of Namath with them, having turned old-fashioned confidence into 21st century swagger.
The Steelers have been there, done that, got the t-shirt and can sit there admiring each of their six Vince Lombardi trophies, two of which they earned under the leadership of big Ben Roethlisberger and the Peter Pan of the NFL Hines ‘the smiler’ Ward. The Steelers have stepped into the AFC Championship game thanks to some fantastic adjustments executed to perfection in the second half of their game against the team I thought would win it all, the Baltimore Ravens.
Heinz Meanz Beanz Field will be full of raucous Steelers fans waving their yellow terrible towels, and for all NFL fans in England we will have to suffer the biased presenting of Steelers fan and presenter Nick Halling, who will no doubt be wearing the same stinky old black suit, black shirt and yellow tie.
Keys to the game
- Can the Jets offensive line limit the damage caused by the Steelers pass rush? Its not a case of the Big Apple offensive line completely preventing the likes of Woodley and Harrison from getting to Mark Sanchez, it’s a case of damage limitation. Jets will not stop the attack, but they can slow the pressure down. That and the fact Tony Richardson will take on and block anyone – even Andre the Giant with Troy Polamalu on his shoulders.
- Can the Jets shut down the explosive Mike Wallace? Simple answer is yes. Revis Island is a destination that no one wants to visit but wide outs end up arriving at the same destination week after week. Revis will blanket his side of the field and this will leave a huge battle between Antonio Cromartie and his own demons.
- Can the Steelers get the ball to Heath Miller? The tight end will be one of the keys to this game, as he always seems to show up for Big Ben when it matters the most. Hines Ward is slowing down and Randle El as a slot back scares nobody. Miller is one of the top red-zone threats and whilst he may disappear in games, he knows the fundamentals of blocking and catching and most importantly how to win football games.
- Can the rookie Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey show his team mates how to block? Pouncey has played like an All Pro all season long, but that cannot be said of Pittsburgh’s entire offensive line who have either been inconsistent or injured. Pouncey is looking to become the new Jeff Saturday, an indestructible force that makes his somewhat average ranked team mates play better. The weaknesses at guard and tackle for the Steelers could be fatal today.
Prediction – The Jets simply want this game more, and like wolves needing to feed to survive, they will hunt down Big Ben and the Steelers until they have had their full feed. There to stop the Jets will be the one man Tasmanian devil Troy Polamalu, with all his hair and his hitting. The Jets simply have the bodies that can match up to the Steelers, and providing Mark Sanchez stays cool then we will witness the birth of swagger. Jets 23-19 Steelers – MVP Shonn Greene with over 100 yards rushing (including breaking one for over 30 yards).
To buy a Mark Sanchez Reebok shirt direct from England click here
So I have a New York Jets v Chicago Bears Super Bowl – the two underdogs today.
What do you think of my prediction and who are you rooting for?